Elite Status

Getting a Better Seat than a Delta Diamond Elite for $70

Written by Charlie

On a recent flight, I was able to get a better seat (in first class) than a Delta Diamond elite member for just $70. What does this mean to Delta elites?

The loyalty field has shifted a lot for US flyers over the last few years. These changes have seen airlines make earning elite status more difficult with spending requirements and, in return, have not given as much to their elites while they play around with pricing for travel. As a result, this type of scenario can happen – and it is a real shame for elite flyers who have given their loyalty to their particular airline.

Getting a Better Seat than a Delta Diamond Elite for $70

From a Former Delta Diamond

When Delta first rolled out their Diamond elite status several years ago, I was a charter member and held the status for a couple of years before slowly slipping down the elite ranks by dropping to Platinum before going to Gold (and then leaving Delta altogether).

I rarely have the opportunity to fly Delta anymore but for short regional hops. I have written before that, when I am checking luggage, buying the first class fare is actually a much better deal than buying economy and paying for bags! So, I have done that in the past.

When I used to be a Diamond, I remember how it was pretty much a sure thing that I was going to be getting an upgrade. I think I may have only missed a couple of upgrades as a Diamond and even got operational upgrades to business on some international routes.

First Class Monetization

That has all changed over the last couple/few years with the onslaught of first-class monetization, the practice of selling first class/business class as an upsell to customers at the time of ticketing or even check-in at a reduced cost from the regular first class price. I know many Delta elite flyers that will not purchase those since these are seats that should be included for them as complimentary upgrades, due to their status, and the thought of paying for them is really not great.

Is It Worth It To Upgrade?

For me, I weigh the situation as to whether it is a good deal for me to do that upgrade. On a recent 2 hour and 20 minute flight, an offer of $70 was made. Since I was checking a bag that ended up actually weighing over the 50lbs (which I realized after I packed more things at my first destination) and knew I would be paying at least for one bag but likely two or maybe an overweight single, it was a good deal for me to spring for a $70 upgrade. With the first checked bag costing $25 and the second $35, that makes the $70 cost pretty much worth it right there!

Of course, I also got priority check-in, boarding, and a nicer seat – basically for free since I would have had to pay for the bags! Why not, right?

The Value of an Elite Member’s Loyalty to Delta

The crazy thing about this is that there were two Delta Diamond members who were near me at boarding and talking about how it looked like they were going to miss their upgrade. Yes, that’s right – for a $70 upcharge, I would be able to get a seat in first class while two Delta Diamond elite members (Delta’s highest elite tier) would be sitting behind the curtain.

This is just crazy. The amount of loyalty I show to Delta is like less than nothing (when you see how often I fly them and what I pay to do that). What is crazy about this is that it seems that $70 is worth more to Delta than rewarding their top elite members who likely pay a minimum of 100 times that in a year!

As a non-elite member with Delta, this type of behavior makes me just sit back and shake my head. If I were seeking out an airline to give loyalty to, why would I feel compelled to give that loyalty to Delta? Yes, you can get some nice perks as a top elite like the valuable upgrade coupons for use throughout the Delta system, the occasional pickup by a Porsche on short connections, free refund of award tickets, and some other nice perks – but Delta still seats you in the back because they can sell a first class seat upgrade for $70 to someone like me!

The US airline elite system has pretty much been about upgrades for years before this and I am sure that the move to the first class monetization model over the last couple/few years has cost them some elites who dislike having to pay like everyone else or hope that Delta releases some of those seats into the upgrade pool.

Are you a Delta elite flyer? How has your upgrade percentage been in 2017?

Featured image courtesy of Delta

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • I’ve been a diamond since day one, and my conversion rate has absolutely declined in 2017. But to be honest, I’m also now buying the F seat about 30% of the time, which is exactly what Delta seems to want. But what they don’t realize is that when that number starts to approach 50-60%, what’s the point of loyalty? I’ll just buy the cheapest first class seat I can find.

  • Sorry, this seems like well considered business planning. I am sure they are doing statistical studies as they make their policies.
    Candidly, many elite level passengers are elite because of two factors. either they are based in a city best served by DL or their employer has a special relationship with DL.
    In either case it behooves DL to try to sell upgrades for money and just dangle sometime upgrades as a goal. I am assuming that the elite sitting in the back of the bus was also offered the available fare. While fares and their availability can vary I assume that there was nothing blocking the elite from shelling out other than his or his employers stinginess.

  • Is it not still realized income for Delta, does the amount really matter? They made $10 assuming you did pay for 1st and 2nd bag, they made $45 if you only paid for 1 bag… The two “diamonds” which by the way this part of the story seems strange, made a decision to book coach and risk sitting in the seat booked. Will their loyalty dimish… probably not and even if it does should Delta even care. End of the day they made money off you; no you didn’t beat the system you played right into their very smart hands.

  • Problem is that all major airlines are doing it. Less real competition = no motivation to reward their elites.

  • Im Exec Platinum on AA and I get upgraded less than 50% of the time, so if the first is less than $200, I generally just buy first.

  • I am a 2 million miler and for the 1st. time in 12 years, I fell to gold for 2017. I was upgraded to first on 1 flight in 2017! I will make Platinum in 2018 but frankly do not see a big advantage in doing so. In 2016 I was upgraded to first less than 5 times and this was mostly early morning flights. I am sorry but I do not see priority comfort as a upgrade.

    Delta continues to devalue their frequent flyer status. I am definetly going to look at other options in 2018.